Collateral beauty

I'm a easy cry. Watching re-runs of Price is Right or Hallmark movies or such, I tend to turn on the waterworks. Tucked away in my theater seat, I'm often wiping tears away before the house lights are up again, and anyone and everyone can see what a sap I am.

But for the past couple of years something has been different. Since my older brother died, almost two years ago, I seem to be stowing away buckets of tears for another time, another season.

ALL women know we are blessed to have a good cry now and then, whether it's over hurt feelings, or conversations gone wrong, or even the happy moments that don't wreck our faces entirely but still having us grabbing kleenex. Sometimes we need to run a hot bath and have a good cry away from the rest of the world.

I think I'm stuck because I know / knew, somewhere inside of me, that if I started I might not stop. If I started it could turn into a marathon of tears.

The buildup started with losing my older brother to tragic circumstances (and our last conversation went badly); then months followed with the painful realization my mother was being won over by dementia. In spite of her continually telling me, "there is nothing wrong with my brain!"  Rough conversations and yelling at each other in frustration over things like whether the 'windy thing' in her apartment should be running or not and had the rent been paid, or paid twice, was she eating ... generally being beside myself with worry that she was living alone and clearly shouldn't be; what if she walked out of her little apartment and wandered into traffic? What if she got hurt and nobody knew she was allergic to penicillin and codeine? But how on earth were we going to convince her she needed to move into nursing care? Months of worry and struggle finally culminated in her moving into a facility where her life shrunk to a small shared room divided by a curtain, one long hall and an activity room where she takes all her meals and spends much of her day. 99% of her interaction with the world is people as lost as she is, or people working at her facility. Food is set in front of her and sometimes she eats, sometimes she doesn't bother. Someone helps her, every day, get dressed in one of the blue outfits I've sent her. Blue, her favorite color. Blue, her only color.

After leaving her there in late summer, hugging her goodbye and feeling how small and fragile she'd become, we drove away. That was the one moment where I almost melted into a puddle of sadness, but nurses saw the situation, rushed us and took her away. Something in that moment, and not being able to cry got me stuck into this middle ground numbness. I walked down the hall and out the door. Climbed into our car and drove back to Texas to have my cornea transplant, followed a few days later by our son getting the scary kind of sick where you pray deals with God. Then in the spring my cornea stitches tore lose and needed to be reattached. That was followed up by selling our Texas home, packing everything up into storage, loading us and the pup into the van and heading to northern Idaho, where we've been for four months.

I'm not normally one for a pity party, but it seems to me if there was a girl who needed a good cry, it was surely me. Yet none came. For months and months and months I've been holding back Hoover Dam.

But lately I've begun to sense a thawing. Maybe permission to let go, let the hurts and challenges and scares and sad things soak in and let myself feel the full weight of it.

Ends up, being constantly brave and stoic is exhausting.

Living near our girls, and being in their homes I've watched as Christmas is lovingly prepared all around me. Sweet handmade gifts being made, lights strung on freshly cut trees, embroidered stockings hung, and little ones making lists. It's brought back memories of Christmases long past, baby dolls with eyes that opened and closed, and six of my father's socks hung in a row over our gas heater; Christmases where my mother wrapped every single gift in white tissue paper, tied with red ribbons curled with the scissors. Garlands of popcorn we six kids strung on thread and wrapped around our always-scrawny tree. Then years later, when she'd begun to decline, she'd send packages of shredded coconut because she remembered I loved it, but no longer had the presence of mind to buy a box of candy. There were huge, goofy socks and other awkward things she'd wrap up and send because she wanted to send gifts but didn't remember how to do the whole process. There were the predictable bags of pistachios she'd include for Cub Sweetheart because she loved him but couldn't remember enough about him to know what else to send.

This year she has no idea it's Christmas. The staff put up a tree where she lives, and she'll open packages I sent her, with the help of an aid. She'll bake cookies and sing songs and watch old movies, all in that one little room at the end of the hall. But she will never, ever again wrap gifts in white tissue paper, and tie them with red ribbon. She won't pack it all into a box the wrong size, seal it up with surgical tape because she's not organized enough (even in her sharpest years) to have packing tape on hand. Knowing Christmas is beyond her now makes recalling my childhood memories, and all those awkward gifts she did send, a treasure. Holy.

Today I walked down to our mailbox, inserted the tiny key and opened the little metal door. Took out an envelope and carried it back home. I hesitated to even tear the envelope open; rather, I just looked at it for awhile. Looked at my name on the front of the envelope, in my father's handwriting. A bit squiggly and uneven, the way handwriting gets after 91 years. His return address in the upper left corner. I carefully tore the envelope open, took out the card and the check that is always there. Read his note, which of course included how much he's already looking forward to ordering the seeds for his 2017 garden, if his knees hold up, and looked at the check written out to me. Looked at the end of the message, where he signed, 'Love you, Dad'.

The check will get deposited by phone, but I won't shred it. I set the envelope aside to save so I'll have his handwriting someday. I sat there, on the sofa for a few minutes, soaking in how fleeting time is; I won't always open my mailbox in December and see an envelope with my father's handwriting on it. Treasure. Holy.

Yesterday we saw the movie, 'Collateral Beauty' (which I heartily recommend, BTW.) A movie whose theme was seeing the beauty that falls out from tragedy changes everything. For me, today, there was fallout, collateral beauty in an envelope with my name written in squiggly handwriting. Tomorrow, when I face time with my mother, and she sees my face and smiles as she remembers me, there will be more. It's tremendously difficult to talk to her now; back and forth conversation is almost impossible for her at this point, but I'll be sure to thank her for all the wonderful Christmases she gave me over the years, for all those white tissue wrapped packages tied up with curly red ribbon. For the bags of coconut and goofy socks. I'll remember for the both of us.

Maybe at some point during this holiday season I'll run a hot bath and have a good cry over the collateral beauty that is swirling all around me. 


Lori said…
That was beautiful. Thank you.
Anonymous said…
I read the last two paragraphs through tears. You have been gifted with a beautiful writing voice, and I thank you for sharing your gift here. I hope to read your book someday.

Blessings to you and your family. -Denise

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